Mitogen-stimulated IL-2, IFN-gamma, TNF-alpha (type 1 cytokines), and IL-10 (type 2 cytokine) production by peripheral blood mononuclear cells, as well as expression of surface markers on immune cells, was evaluated in systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients. Fifty-four SSc patients with either diffuse (dSSc) or limited (lSSc) disease and 20 age- and sex-matched healthy controls (HCs) were examined. Fourteen patients were treated with prednisone and 9 patients with prednisone and cyclophosphamide pulses. Results showed that (1) IL-2 production is significantly decreased, whereas IL-10 is higher in untreated patients compared to HCs; IL-10, IFN-gamma, and TNF-alpha production is higher in lSSc compared to dSSc patients; (2) CD4+25+ (IL-2R), CD8+, and CD8+45RA-28+57- (memory) lymphocytes are reduced in patients compared to HCs; (3) CD95-expressing CD4+ and CD8+ cells are significantly higher in dSSc patients; and (4) steroids are more effective alone than in combination with cyclophosphamide in reducing IL-10 and IFN-gamma production in these patients. These results confirm that a complex imbalance in cytokine production is present in SSc patients and suggest that peculiar phenotypic populations are underrepresented in these patients. Overexpression of Fas in dSSc could results from the attempt of the immune system to induce apoptosis of autoreactive T-cell clones.